Fifty Patek Philippe watches were exhibited at its Geneva salon in April to showcase the myriad artistic watchmaking crafts it uses. Terence Lim delved into the watchmaker’s creative world at the Rare Handcrafts exhibition
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IPatek Philippe watches are worthy investment pieces. Not only do the special or exclusive watches consistently fetch handsome prices at auctions, the regular ones are just as impressive. Made with utmost respect to the storied craft of watchmaking, each ticker boasts beautiful lines and supple curves complemented by a state-of-the-art movement. But Patek Philippe is more than just a watchmaker; it is a bona fide artist too.
Year after year, the Genevan manufacture rolls out superlative collections of metier d’art watches inspired by disciplines such as astronomy, geography, music and nature. This year is no exception as Patek Philippe unveiled 50 dome clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches at its Rare Handcrafts exhibition in Geneva in April. Singapore Tatler was given exclusive access to the event and was privy to the beautiful watches that feature esoteric artistic techniques including manual engraving, various grand feu enamelling techniques, gem‑setting and hand guilloche.
So, it is only natural for outsiders—and possibly astute business people—to think that artistic watches make up a large portion of earnings for the brand. It doesn’t, however, contrary to popular belief. For one, the manufacture hasn’t produced enough volume
to place a healthy profit margin on each piece, which takes a lot of man-hours and effort to complete.
“People in the know are aware that you can’t create these watches for business,” said Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern at the opening of the Rare Handcrafts exhibition. “They’re really made for passion.” He pointed out that annually, the brand only produces around 140 of such metier d’art pieces, with each receiving some 60 requests worldwide. The demand is clearly much greater than the supply. But it is more than just lining the coffers of the family-owned business. “With these rare handcrafts watches, we show that Patek Philippe is at the peak of quality.”
STATE OF ORIGIN
When Thierry’s father, Philippe, who is the brand’s former president, started investing time and money into creating metier d’art watches, profitability was the furthest thing on his mind. Personal interest aside, he had a singular aim: to safeguard and preserve rare and disappearing artistic skills linked to watchmaking.
“The level of interest in such artistic watches was not there at that time and people didn’t really buy such pieces,” said Thierry. “But my dad insisted on getting craftsmen to continue making such watches.”
A couple of decades on, Philippe’s persistence has reaped benefits on many levels. First, there is a resurgence of interest in such artistic crafts—horophiles today are increasingly interested in rare handcrafted watches, which has opened up more doors for these artists now that more brands are jumping onto the metier d’art bandwagon. Also, the proliferation of these crafts has injected a new lease of life into these vanishing arts, and has encouraged younger generations to pick up these skills from the grand masters.
“It’s important to transmit these skills and know-how to the next generation,” said Thierry, adding that the manufacture boasts craftsmen who are proficient in more than 60 types of artistic skills. “It’s indeed very rare to have so much talent. But importantly, we want to hire people who can—and are willing to—share knowledge and impart skills to the young.”